TEACHING MATTERS -- 27 June 2013

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Due to the holiday, Teaching Matters will not be issued next week. 

June 27, 2013  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

Magic in the Mist (Morgan Bellinger and her Mom, Carol)

(Above) Morgan Bellanger and her mother Carol show off Morgan's "Magic in the Mist." Morgan is a student at Forbush Middle School in East Bend, N.C.

(Left) Students from North Carolina cut the ribbon on the display of their exhibit "Artful Expressions" at ED.

Artful Expressions artists from North Carolina cut the ribbon on the display of their work at ED.


Artful Expressions at ED

Last week student artists from North Carolina celebrated the opening of a two-month display of their work at the U.S. Department of Education. The collection, titled "Artful Expressions from the Mountains to the Sea," opened with a ceremony at ED that included music, dancing, and high praise for the rich diversity of talent on display. Learn more. View more photos. Learn about the Arts Education Partnership.

Common Core Connections

BEST DEFENSE. In a speech before the American Society of News Editors, Arne Duncan laid out his strongest defense of the movement for the Common Core State Standards and pushed back on claims that the federal government has overreached by encouraging their adoption. "We are no longer lying to kids about whether they are ready," Duncan said. "Finally, we are telling them the truth, telling their parents the truth, and telling their future employers the truth. Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable to giving our children a true college and career-ready education." The entire speech is well worth reading. Read excerpts printed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

GOOD POLICY. On the Al Shanker blog, Matt Di Carlo writes about Arne Duncan's decision to give states the option to postpone using the results of their new teacher evaluations for high-stakes decisions during the phase-in of the new Common Core-aligned assessments. His bottom line: "Sometimes what is called 'delay' is actually better described as good policy making, and kids can wait for good policy making." Read the article.

WHEN ELEPHANTS FIGHT. Indiana teacher and America Achieves Fellow Fatima Rich explains why teachers in her school and district (Washington Township) are not waiting to teach the Common Core State Standards while the politicians argue about their merits. It reminds us of the adage: when elephants fight, it's the ground that suffers. Read her piece in the Indy Star.


Memphis Teachers Benefit from Changes to Evaluation Systems

A study published by Teach Plus (in partnership with the Memphis Education Association) examines teachers' views about how evaluation reform affects them. The report illuminates a number of issues, including how well teachers understand the new standards and to what extent they believe teachers and students benefit from the new evaluation system. Here are some highlights:

• 87 percent of Memphis teachers indicate that the observation rubric is somewhat to extremely clear.

58 percent see a direct link between the teaching practices exemplified in the evaluation instrument and increased student achievement.

Teachers generally believe they are getting the kind of feedback needed to help improve their teaching. Two-thirds of teachers (67 percent) are somewhat to extremely confident that their administrators are able to provide them with information to improve their teaching practices. 

Miles to Go

“At the end of the day, the number of African-Americans who have college degrees is about 20 percent in our country. So to think we are anywhere near where we need to be would be an absolute fallacy."

(Arne Duncan at the announcement of the United Negro College Fund's Better Futures campaign.)

Quote to Note

We are a group of kids that think differently

Teacher Janet Barker from Parras Middle School (Redondo Beach, Calif.) sent us an inspiring letter about her incredible students, who accepted a teacher's challenge to make a difference solving some of our country's most important problems and then got to work. (An excerpt from the letter is printed below.) Visit the students' Project Now! Showcase.


Middle School Students Set a Proactive Example for Adults (and Washington, D.C.)

Dear USDE Staff,

I am a former journalist who left the education beat to dive into the classroom. I remember getting all kinds of requests from teachers like myself hoping to snag a reporter's interest. But this time, I have the real deal to share with you—education colleague to education colleague. Let's just say, as adults crab about the world going to hell, well, my students are right behind them brushing up their debris of despair and reformulating it into chest swelling hope.

I have a group of eighth-graders who actually believe that they can make the world better. They believe that they can use the Arts, their passion for all kinds of topics, from gun violence to raising hope for children with cancer, and inspire the Public to stop complaining about the world and step up and be positive conduits of change. They are the kind of kids who believed their teacher when she said last February, "What if you had one minute, one day, one week, one entire school quarter to change the world for the better?"

They have done all kinds of work, from interviewing heroes and writing letters to crafting news articles and giving speeches. Now they want to take their inspiration to the Public and inspire adults to believe, like they do, that we can transform America into the land of our dreams. They make me so proud to be their teacher and I just know if your readers get to meet them they will be similarly inspired. You see, we started this project in between school shootings and fugitive chases, with parents going haywire and bullies and self-harmers getting out of control. Project Now! is our stop. Does it really have to be this way? My students say, "No!" 

*Educators may write to ED at TeachTalk@ed.gov.


Did You Know?

239,000 teachers finish teacher preparation programs each year, but only 98,000 are hired.

Less than 1-in-9 programs for elementary educators are preparing pre-service teachers to teach Common Core State Standards.

Only 7% of programs ensure student teachers are partnered with effective classroom teachers.

(NCTQ's review of Teacher Prep.)

question mark

FREE BETA screen shot


New FREE Site Features Open Data and Mobile-Friendly Design

Last week a beta version of FREE’s new website was launched. The new Federal Registry for Educational Excellence (FREE) is powered by the Learning Registry, an open database for sharing digital learning resources. This partnership will provide educators, parents and students with a broader inventory of educational materials from federal agencies and public and private organizations. More than 200,000 freely available resources are included. The site incorporates responsive design for mobile devices. This means FREE looks great and works well for users on smartphones and tablets. Learn more.

Resources from the School Turnaround Learning Community (STLC)


School Improvement Measures More than Test Scores

The Department recently released additional data from School Improvement Grant (SIG) schools for the 2010-2011 school year. For the first time, the Department publicly released data on the following leading indicators of school improvement for SIG schools: student attendance, teacher attendance, advanced course-taking, and minutes in the school year at the school level. The release is part of ED's commitment to transparency to better inform educators, parents, community members, and the public about changes in schools in their communities.

The data released includes three components: a data file of the four leading indicators; a national summary that includes those indicators, SIG high school graduation rates, and SIG demographic and data-reporting information; and state profiles that present data-reporting information, demographics, and summaries of leading indicators and previously released graduation rates and 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 assessment results. This school-level release of data provides a baseline for data collected in subsequent years. They offer starting points for later comparisons, and some provide indication of the challenges faced as well as what is possible to achieve when turning around the nation's lowest performing schools.

Read the press release. Learn more about School Improvement Grants. Join the School Turnaround Learning Community and receive resources that address your school's challenges.

Detailed access instructions:

  1. Go to http://explore.data.gov
  2. Change the sort order to reflect "Newest" in the dropdown menu on the right.
  3. Using the filters on the left side of the screen, select "Education" under 'Categories'
  4. Today's release is called "Leading Indicators for the School Improvement Grant Program – SY2010-11"
  5. Users can also access the individual datasets directly using the following link:

Tools for Students

YOUTH JOBS. Building off the 2012 Summer Jobs+ program, President Obama has announced Youth Jobs+, designed to provide pathways to employment for low-income and disconnected youth. The site includes links for a number of employment opportunities, including internships, summer jobs, and employment after college. Students may also watch videos of celebrities like NBA Champion Alonzo Mourning describing their first jobs.

Students' Corner

America Achieves video

London Moore teaches fifth grade in Baton Rouge, La.

Teachers' Notes

• A CALL FOR CIVILITY. Teacher and Teach Plus fellow Kylene Young writes a moving piece about being attacked on social media for her views about teaching. Her story is illuminating as are her observations about the antagonistic climate happening in education discourse. "I am more concerned about the climate within the education field right now, and what seems to be an unwillingness to work together for solutions." Read her story.

WHAT MAKES A GREAT TEACHER? We like this America Achieves video of teachers sharing what it takes--personally and professionally--to be a great teacher. We also like this clip with America Achieves' leader Jon Schnur making the case for communities to invest in improving education.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE. NPR's Jennifer Guerra examines the practice of restorative justice, a strategy used increasingly in high schools across the country to reduce suspensions and school dropouts. She profiles educators and students who run a conflict resolution room at Ypsilanti High School (Mich.), characterizing their methods as a "complete paradigm shift" from traditional discipline. Traditional methods focus primarily on rules and punishment, but with restorative justice, the focus shifts to the harm done and relationships. Learn more.

• USING HIP HOP TO TEACH SCIENCE. Learn about how Dr. Christopher Emdin, Columbia University professor who likes to declaim Newton’s laws in rhyme, teamed up with GZA from Wu-Tang Clan to bring science into the classroom of underserved communities. They created an experimental pilot program called Science Genius that uses hip-hop music to reach more than 300 urban students. Read the article about how the best students from the experiment faced off in a competition at Columbia University.

SUPPORTING STUDENT PARENTS. ED recently released guidance for schools about how to support students who are pregnant or who have their own children. Download the pamphlet. Read the press release.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Exposure to displays such as this one in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History prepares young children for learning in school.



Study Finds Museums and Libraries Fuel Early Learning

Educators and parents have long trusted museums and libraries as welcoming places where children make discoveries, deepen common interests, expand words and knowledge, and connect their natural curiosity to the wider world. Neuroscientists tell us that the type of learning that occurs in these institutions—self-directed, experiential, content-rich—promotes executive function skills that can shape a child’s success in school and life. A new report from the Institute of Museum and Library Services touts the “key roles in fostering early literacy and development” that museums and libraries play. Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners calls upon policy makers and practitioners to fully use the capacity of libraries and museums to close knowledge and opportunity gaps and give all children a strong start in learning.

the New Math

Room for Improvement

In 2010, the SAT scores of students intending to pursue undergraduate education degrees ranked 25th out of 29 majors generally associated with four-year degree programs.

(Cited in Charles Chieppo's article in the Hechinger Report, The Growing Movement to Get Better Teachers in the Classroom.) 

Roberto explains BFF to his tutor.

At Breakthrough Charter's Near West Intergenerational School, Roberto Leon explains the concept of BFF to his tutor, Harold.

Breaking Through to a Quality Education for Urban Children

This inspiring CBS News report describes how Breakthrough Charter Schools (Cleveland, Ohio) helped parent Charmin Leon get her ten-year-old son Roberto an excellent education despite his failing grades and discipline problems. She chose an expanding network of charter schools in Cleveland, Breakthrough Charter Schools, which offered Roberto a nurturing environment in its Near West Intergenerational School. Near West Intergenerational is one of five new charter schools resulting from an OII Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant awarded to Breakthrough Charter Schools. Learn more.  

open book

Recommended Reading

• A PRINCIPAL TO THE CORE! In Five Essential Schoolwide Conditions for Common Core Achievement, NASSP's Mel Riddle makes a convincing case that when it comes to CCSS implementation, principals most definitely matter! His blog, published by the Learning First Alliance, describes the magic that principals make so that teachers have what they need to teach to high standards.  

• TEACHING US ALL A LESSON. The Aspen Institute's Ross Wiener has written an article in Huffington Post about how Denver schools have used educators to strengthen their reform efforts. Wiener has also written a compelling report with Kasia Lundy about how teacher surveys can be used to garner critical information about teacher evaluations themselves, including what’s working and what’s not. 

• SUMMER READING FOR EDUCATORS. Edutopia's English teacher and journalist Mark Phillips has published this super list of favorites, including books for inspiration, for practice, and for finding out what your students might be reading this summer. Read his recommendation.

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

 5. Explaining differences between existing curricula and the Common Core State Standards: "In ELA, it's Beloved, not pandas. In math, it's puzzles, not answers.” (Teacher, Tenn.)

4. "In Switzerland and Austria, generally the teachers are trusted more." (Principal, N.Y.)

3. "Teachers that spend time in the classroom day-in-and-day-out need to be the voice that steers what is best for our kids in regards to testing, curriculum, realistic standards, funding, etc." (Teacher, Texas.)

CEC teachers visit ED.

2. "Our prior (teacher) evaluations weren't real. We went through Charlotte Danielson like a checklist. What we are doing now pushes me to improve, to be (identified as) more than proficient or basic." (Special Education Teacher, Md.)

1. Responding to Arne Duncan's announcement that states will be offered flexibility on testing: "Congratulations to the leadership that is opening up to teachers' voices. They are the ones in the front line of the effort to educate future citizens. So glad they are being given the respect they deserve." (Carolyn, on the blog)